Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute

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The Encyclopedia of Arkansas Minute features the history of Arkansas as told through the entries of the Encyclopedia of Arkansas. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas is a program of the Central Arkansas Library System Butler Center for Arkansas Studies.

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The women’s auxiliary of an American terrorist group had its headquarters in Little Rock.

The Women of the Ku Klux Klan was formed on June 10, 1923, with temperance activist Lulu Markwell as its imperial commander. Within a year the organization claimed a quarter million members in 48 states.

Markwell resigned in 1924 and Robbie Gill replaced her; Gill married state Klan leader James Comer a year later.

A Fayetteville writer’s youthful adventures led to a long, productive literary career. Charles J. Finger was born in England in 1867 and studied music in Germany before heading to South America in 1890, where he herded livestock, panned for gold, harvested sealskins and worked with the gauchos on the Argentine plains.

The Arkansas Association of Colored Women was formed in 1905, adopting the slogan of its national organization, “Lifting As We Climb,” and working to improve conditions in African American communities across the state.

A World War II program to bring Mexican workers into the United States provided inexpensive labor for Arkansas Delta farmers for more than twenty years.

The Bracero Program began in 1942, when American farmers were in need of labor to meet wartime demands. Workers were recruited in Mexico and signed contracts to work in the U.S. for up to ninety days, and were guaranteed housing, food and medical care.

A young Cuban woman pursued dreams of military glory by masquerading as a Confederate soldier in Arkansas.

Loreta Velazquez was born in Havana in 1842, the youngest child of a wealthy trader. She married a young American officer in 1856, and he left to join the Confederate army when the Civil War began. That is when Valezquez donned a Confederate uniform and fake facial hair and began calling herself Lieutenant Harry T. Buford.

A Mexican artist created sculptures in the 1930s that continue to delight visitors to three North Little Rock parks.

Dionicio Rodriguez was born in the early 1890s in Toluca, Mexico, and his early works can be seen in Mexico City. By 1910 he had moved to Texas, and Lakewood developer Justin Matthews sought him out in San Antonio, persuading him to create sculptures in Lakewood, Crestwood and T.R. Pugh Memorial Park.

The latter, better known as The Old Mill, is likely Rodriguez’s best-known work and is featured in the opening scenes of Gone With The Wind.

An East Arkansas refuge contains the largest remaining tract of bottomland hardwood forest in North America.

In the 1970s, the Corps of Engineers planned to dredge and straighten several miles of the Cache River to reduce flooding. Suttgart dentist and duck hunter Rex Hancock formed a group to fight the plan, and in 1986 the area was made the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge, ensuring its preservation.

A Pine Bluff bird-watcher became a leader in efforts to preserve Arkansas’s waterways.

Jane Ellenbogen was born in Little Rock in 1918. After marrying Dr. Howard Stern in 1940, the couple moved to Pine Bluff. She became interested in bird-watching after her son hung a feeder at their home for a Boy Scout project.

A Benton County doctor was integral in saving one of Arkansas’s most beautiful resources.

Neil Compton was born in Falling Springs Flat in 1912. He graduated from medical school in 1939 and after World War II service in the U.S. Navy began a long obstetrics career in which he said he “delivered enough babies to staff my own Navy.”

A Camden civic leader’s mysterious disappearance in 1957 remains unsolved. Lawyer Maud Crawford served on the Camden City Council for eight years, was a founder of Arkansas Girls State and served as the president of three women’s civic clubs. An expert on abstracts and title work, she worked in the law firm that U.S. Senator John L. McClellan established.

A Black teacher from Camden recorded the memories of former slaves during the Great Depression.

Pernella Center was born in Camden in 1903 and after marrying William Anderson was teaching school in Lockesburg by 1935. The Federal Writers Project hired her a year later to interview Black people in El Dorado; she was one of only two African American Arkansans who worked for the project.

Galloway Women’s College was established when the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, decided to consolidate resources that funded small schools around Arkansas. Searcy won the location rights for the school by pledging twenty-five thousand dollars and it was dedicated in honor of Bishop Charles Betts Galloway on April 18, 1889.

Born around 1880, Mary Lee McCrary Ray would become Arkansas’s first African American home demonstration agent.

Mary Lee McCrary graduated from the Tuskegee Institute in 1897, after which she taught in private schools in Alabama and South Carolina, urging students to pursue economic initiatives. She switched to public education at Langston, Okla., in 1900 and within six years owned a thriving dressmaking business.

Born into slavery in 1842, Green Hill Jones would rise to become a Baptist preacher and Arkansas legislator.

Jones grew up as a field hand on the Rayner plantation in Chicot County, but during the Civil War escaped to Memphis, where he joined the Third U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery. Returning home after the war, he was shot and wounded by bushwhackers.

Though he is largely forgotten today, African American poet George Pool Ballard is a noteworthy figure in Arkansas’s literary history.

Born in 1882, Ballard was working minor jobs in Fayetteville when he began publishing poems in the Daily Democrat, edited by Lessie Stringfellow Read. His 1924 poem “Woodrow Wilson—A Tribute” was reprinted in several newspapers, bringing him national attention.

Mamie Phipps was born October 18, 1917, in Hot Springs. While studying math and physics at Howard University, she met psychology student Kenneth Clark, leading her to change her major; they married in 1937.

An Arkansas native’s hardscrabble childhood was a key inspiration on her award-winning career as an author for older children.

Robbie Branscum was born Robbie Nell Tilley in Big Flat in 1934 and grew up on her grandparents’ sharecropper farm. She attended a one-room school that had two crates filled with books that allowed her escape from her hard life; she later said “I read like a starving person eats.”

Her mother moved her to Colorado when Tilley was 13 and she married Dwane Branscum two years later, moving to California.

Little Rock’s Ann Gillis had a brief but busy career that saw her act in thirty-nine movies between 1934 and 1947.

Born Alma Mabel Connor on February 12, 1927, her mother moved to Hollywood seven years later, changed her daughter’s name to Ann Gillis, and got her an agent. Her career consisted of small roles in big movies and big roles in small films. Gillis hit her stride in 1936 when she worked in seven movies and she would appear with such stars as Myrna Loy, Marlene Dietrich, Gary Cooper, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers.

A Jewish immigrant with a flair for the dramatic became one of Little Rock’s most successful merchants. Gustave Blass was born in Obornik, Germany, in 1849, traveling to the U.S. at age 16 and ending up in Little Rock where he founded the Gus Blass Dry Goods Company in 1871.

Melinda Rose Dillon was born Oct. 13, 1939, in Hope, but found fame in Hollywood. After studying acting with Lee Strasberg and at Chicago’s Goodman School of Drama, she started a career as an improvisational comedian and stage actress, including time with the Second City troupe.

A Searcy County town may have been named through a clerical error.

The first white settler in the area around Calf Creek may have been John Campbell, who moved there around 1837. The settlement continued to grow over the years, and in 1885 Calf Creek Masonic Lodge No. 426 was founded. A year later a lodge was built and named Snow Hall in honor of county Sheriff Benjamin Franklin Hall.

When the locals petitioned for a post office in 1888, they requested the name Snow Hall, but postal officials recorded it as Snowball.

An American World War II submarine served in the Turkish Navy before finally docking in the Arkansas River at North Little Rock.

The USS Razorback was launched on Jan. 27, 1944, and earned five battle stars during the war. She witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in 1945. The ship was modified in 1950 to make it competitive with Soviet subs, and the Razorback saw service in Vietnam before being decommissioned in 1970.

An East Arkansas guitarist would back up some of the greatest blues musicians of all time, though he was underrated and under-compensated.

Robert Lockwood Jr. was born in 1915 in Turkey Scratch west of Helena. He learned to play the guitar from the legendary Robert Johnson and began touring at age seventeen with Johnson, Johnny Shines and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Turkey hunters across the United States owe a vote of thanks to a nineteenth-century Arkansas inventor.

Henry C. Gibson was born on Sept. 18, 1848, near Dardanelle. A farmer and owner of the Western Arkansas Hedge and Wire Fence Company, he created the Gibson Turkey Box, which was granted a patent on January 5, 1897 – the first patent awarded for a box-style turkey call. He shared the patent with John Boddie of Arkadelphia, who likely financed operations and helped market the device.

A mysterious, deer-like creature that reportedly roams the Ozarks is seen as ominous to some of the region’s residents. Folklorist Vance Randolph was the first to record the animal, known as the Snawfus, which is larger than a deer and has trees growing from its head instead of antlers.

Since the 1930s, a mysterious floating light above the railroad tracks near Gurdon has fostered a number of theories, some of them supernatural.

A horror film based on a series of post-World War II murders in Texarkana yielded a big profit for a prolific Arkansas director.

Charles B. Pierce, director of such classics as The Legend of Boggy Creek, released The Town That Dreaded Sundown, featuring Oscar winner Ben Johnson and Dawn Wells of Gilligan’s Island, in 1976. The movie, based on a series of 1946 attacks by a hooded man the Texarkana Gazette called “The Phantom Killer,” was one of the first slasher movies.

An inventor from Texas moved to Pine Bluff and created a machine that revolutionized American agriculture.

John Rust was born in 1892 near Necessity, Texas, and became apt at mechanical tinkering while doing farm work. He set a goal of creating a mechanical cotton picker and in 1928 went into business with his brother Mack; they ultimately owned forty-seven patents. The brothers worked in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee as they sought financial backing for their cotton picker, but their company went bankrupt in the early 1940s and Mack moved to Arizona.

An 1891 attempt by Black sharecroppers to increase the amount of money they were paid for picking cotton led to more than a dozen of them dying.

Ben Patterson of Memphis came to Lee County in late September to establish a strike, but things quickly took a violent turn as organizers traveled the county. Two cotton pickers were killed on the 25th and a white plantation manager was murdered and a cotton gin burned three days later.

A University of Arkansas agronomist developed the “king” of early maturing cotton.

Carl Moosberg was born in 1905, the child of Swedish immigrants. He began working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture when he was 18 and after graduating from Texas Tech became an expert cotton breeder.

He worked at the University of Arkansas’s Cotton Branch Station from 1948 to ’72 and was a research agronomist with UA beginning in 1968, bringing his talents to field work that required long hours working with cotton plants to create the desired traits.